| Gustaf Adolf Mauritz Erikson was born in 1872 in Lemland, Åland islands. The people of Åland had for centuries derived their livelihood from agriculture and seafaring; they sailed to Stockholm and to Turku to sell firewood, fish, meat, dairy products, etc. And they brought salt and textilies home to Åland. Rich farmers had their own boats, others owned halves, quarters, or smaller parts. The boats were usually small cutters and ketches. The farmers were usually masters of their own boats, sailing during the summer while their wives and children took care of the farm at home. In the winter the boats were laid up. |
In the 19th century the Åland ``farmer sailors'' started to sail further abroad, carrying cargos of firewood to Swedish, German and Danish ports. Soon they went as far as the North Sea. Many young people chose to go to sea instead of staying at home working at the farm; they were adventurous, and the exciting life at sea seemed more attractive.
Larger and larger vessels were built; ketches, schooners, barquentines, brigs and barques. However, in the 1890s the golden age of sail in the Baltic was coming to its end -- sailing ships could not keep up with the competition from steamers. Fewer and fewer new sailing vessels were built, they were instead bought second hand from foreign shipowners that were making the transition to steam. However, very few people on the Åland islands, or in Finland in general, were able to invest in steam ships. As a result, in the early 20th century farmers started to go back to their farms, but young people still went to sea. Shipping was commercialized and moved to Mariehamn, under shipowners such as Nikolaj Sittkoff, Mathias Lundqvist, Robert Mattson and August Troberg.
So Gustaf Erikson was born in the middle of the ``golden age'' of sail. His father Gustaf Adolf was a skipper and partowner of many vessels. At the age of ten, Gustaf Erikson went to sea in the barque Neptun as a page boy for the skipper and helper for the cook, and two years later we find him as the cook on the same vessel. He then started working on deck and studying in Mariehamn's school of navigation, and he soon got his master's certificate. In 1906 he married Hilda Bergman. He was at the time master of the full-rigged ship Albania, the largest ship in Åland.
In 1913 he went ashore for good, with 20 years as a master behind him. He now decided to become a shipowner, moved to Mariehamn, and bought the composite barque Tjerimaļ, and bought himself into several other Åland ships. He bought the four-masted barque Renée Rickmers and renamed her the Åland; but she grounded and was lost less than one year later, and Erikson decided never to rename a ship again. During the first World War, Erikson's shipping company was more or less financed by his incredibly lucky Tjerimai; others were lost -- capsized or sunk by German submarines and cruisers. In 1916 he bought the famous full-rigger Grace Harwar and in 1917 the four-masted barque Lawhill.
After the war, the days of sailing ships were considered to be all but over. The other Åland shipping companies went into steam, but Erikson saw the opportunity to do the exact opposite! He realized that big sailing ships in good condition would be available at low prices, so he started buying everything that he could get his hands on and was good enough. He put all his big ships on the Australian wheat trade, this being the only deep-water trade on which sailing ships could compete successfully with steamers.
Erikson was particularly interested in ships formerly owned by Reederei F. Laeisz, Hamburg, the Flying P-line. These ships were strong, fast and in very good condition, having sailed on the South American nitrate trade, one of the toughest trades in the world. In the 1920s Laeisz started to get rid of his sailers, which was good news for Erikson. The first P-liner that Erikson bought, the Pommern, is still preserved as a museum ship in Mariehamn. He bought his last sailer, the enormous four-masted barque Moshulu in 1935.
World War II was very hard for Erikson, and put a definite end to deep-water sailing. The Olivebank sailed on a mine in the North Sea and sunk, the Penang and the Killoran were sunk by the Germans, the Lawhill was taken as prize of war by the South African government, the Archibald Russell by the British, the Pamir by New Zealand and the Moshulu by the Germans. After the war only three deep-water sailers remained: the Pommern, the Viking, and the Passat. The Pommern was in need of repairs that Erikson could not perform now, so only Viking and Passat went to sea again and together made one voyage on the wheat trade (in 1947). Erikson was working hard to get the Pamir, the Archibald Russell and the Lawhill back, but died in 1947 at the age of 75.
Gustaf's son Edgar Erikson took over the company, and managed to get the Pamir and the Archibald Russell back. However, only the Pamir and the Passat went to sea again, making one last voyage on the wheat trade in 1948-49.
Edgar Erikson was not able to make a profit with the sailers, so he decided to get rid of them. The Viking was sold to Gothenburg and the Pommern was donated to the City of Mariehamn. The three others were sold to scrapyard, but a German shipowner bought the Pamir and the Passat from the scrapyard and thus saved them. They then became cargo-carrying schoolships. The Passat finally ended up in Travemünde after the tragic loss of the Pamir in 1957.
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